VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Barely two minutes into the game, Finnish goalie Miikka Kiprusoff was staring at the ceiling in disbelief.
It turns out he was just getting started. Ryan Malone raced into Finland’s zone, picked off Kiprusoff’s pass and scored into an empty net. The rout was on.
What happened next in this semifinal jolted Canada Hockey Place: The Americans scored four times on Kiprusoff in a six-goal first period Friday, surging into the Olympic gold-medal game with a 6-1 victory. As the clock ran out, U.S. captain Jamie Langenbrunner led the celebration by banging his stick against the boards as his teammates hugged on the bench.
The U.S. will meet Canada — a 3-2 winner over Slovakia — in Sunday’s final, 50 years to the day after capturing gold in 1960 at Squaw Valley, Calif.
“It was a crazy 12 minutes,” said forward Patrick Kane, who scored twice. “I’ve never been a part of something like that. It seemed like we were scoring every shift.”
It felt even longer to the Finns.
“The game is over after six minutes,” 39-year-old Finland forward Teemu Selanne said. “It was a long day and very disappointing.”
By the time Kiprusoff left the game 10:08 in, the U.S. had a 4-0 lead on only seven shots. The Calgary Flames goalie had allowed four goals total on 75 shots in three previous games, giving him the top save percentage in the tournament.
“No one is ever as good as they look. And no one is ever as bad as they look, either,” Langenbrunner said.
Kiprusoff’s day appeared to be over after Eric Johnson made it 3-0 with a power-play goal at 8:36. That prompted Finnish coach Jukka Jalonen to call timeout. Kiprusoff got a reprieve, but was back at the bench 1:32 later when Kane scored his first.
This time, Kiprusoff kept his mask on and marched straight down the tunnel toward the dressing room. Backup goalie Niklas Backstrom pulled off his baseball cap and took Kiprusoff’s place in the net.
Things didn’t go any better for him. Backstrom got beat twice on the first four shots he faced.
“We didn’t expect that in a million years,” U.S. defenseman Jack Johnson said. “I don’t think anyone did, especially when you get down to the final four, but it happened for us and we’re looking forward to Sunday.”
It will be the first time since 1972 the U.S. men will play for Olympic gold on foreign soil.
Kiprusoff had only himself to blame for the start of his misery. The U.S. cleared its zone with a nudge of the puck that sent it sliding slowly into the Finnish end. Phil Kessel raced after it and forced Kiprusoff to come way out of his crease. The goalie gently swept the puck away, but right onto the stick of Malone. He quickly fired a shot from the top of the left circle into the vacated net at 2:04 for his third goal.
Zach Parise matched Malone and made it 2-0 when he nestled a shot under the crossbar for a power-play goal. It came off a perfect pass from Paul Stastny at 6:22.
This marks the second time in three Olympics the American men will play for gold. They haven’t claimed the top spot on the podium since the 1980 Miracle on Ice at Lake Placid, N.Y.
“We believed we could win a gold medal. Now we have the opportunity,” Langenbrunner said.
Canada edged the U.S. for gold during the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, and a rematch could be in store.
The Americans (5-0) topped the host nation 5-3 to conclude preliminary play Sunday.
So much for the Americans needing to ride the stellar play of Ryan Miller to win. Miller was relieved by Tim Thomas with 11:31 left in the game after stopping all 18 shots he faced. Miller had played every minute of the tournament until then.
Only twice in the past 10 years has an NHL team led by at least six goals after the first period, and no NHL team has scored six in any period this season. The U.S. pulled back after that outburst and had only 12 shots over the final 40 minutes.
“Everything we tried went their way,” Backstrom said. “We’ve been dreaming about gold for a long time and now suddenly in 10 minutes it’s gone.
“It’s tough, but you don’t want to ever give up. You go out and play for your honor and your country.”
Thomas allowed Antti Miettinen’s deflected goal with 5:14 left to spoil the U.S. bid for consecutive shutouts after a 2-0 quarterfinal win over Switzerland.
Finland, silver medalists four years ago in the Turin Games, will have to settle for a shot at the bronze. This proud group of aging stars, including Selanne and captain Saku Koivu, won bronze in 1998 when the NHL first started sending players to the Olympics.
The Americans were eliminated by Finland in the 2006 Olympic quarterfinals, but the Finns were the final opponent for the 1980 U.S. team that shocked hockey.
U.S. fans took a page from the host country’s supporters and alternated chants of “We Want Canada” with “U-S-A! U-S-A!” in the final minutes.
“We haven’t won anything yet,” Parise said. “We’re getting better and that would be the most important and rewarding thing.”
The Finns committed numerous turnovers with sloppy play that led to goals and other scoring chances. They handed the American another power play when Toni Lydman rammed Dustin Brown’s face into the boards with a hit from behind with 7:02 gone. Johnson turned that into another goal.
Timeout Finland; but by then it was already too late.
Kane, who had scored only once in the tournament, struck for back-to-back goals 2:33 apart — one each on Kiprusoff and Backstrom — and Stastny scored 15 seconds after Kane’s second to make it 6-0 with 7:14 left.
Other than cheers from American fans in the crowd, the biggest outburst came when it was announced that only one minute was left in the period in which the U.S. held a 13-4 shots edge.